Most people believe that H.P. Lovecraft was a racist, basing the monsters in his cosmic horror story on his fears of a modernizing world and prejudiced views on other races and cultures. However, the public is foolish and naive. The creatures such as Shub-Niggurath, Yog-Sothoth, etc, exist in an outer dimension. They used the weak willed author as a conduit, influencing his mind and writing while making him believe that it was he who was coming up with these ideas.

The gods feed on belief, which helps them to grow stronger. The more people are aware of them, the more powerful they become. By use of his writing, the knowledge of these gods has spread to the corners of the world. Soon, the gods will be strong enough to cross over into our world and enslave us.

However, the stories about them are contradictory about their histories. They appear in one way in one story and appear entirely different in others. They have conflicting histories and abilities, and there seems to be no clear pantheon with a consistent heirachy or range of power for these beings. This doesn't bode well for a mythology which wants to encourage belief or worship when they eventually cross over.

What would gods gain from this constant inconsistency?

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    $\begingroup$ Many mythologies are self-contradictory; very few mythologies, if any, are self-consistent. For a simple example, look up the two different genealogies of Jesus of Nazareth in the Christian New Testament; and don't get me started on the Greek mythology. It's quite normal for a mythology to be self-contradictory, because in the end it is a mangled rendition by imperfect mortal creatures of events happenning in the divine sphere. The creature cannot comprehend the creator etc. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 2, 2020 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ I think the two genealogies are different because one tracks through Mary, and the other through Joseph. Both are of the house of David though. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2020 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe because that way they can reach more people? Origins Story A fits better the beliefs and knowledge of People Group A, and Origins Story B appeals more to People Group B $\endgroup$
    – Josh Part
    May 4, 2020 at 21:28
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    $\begingroup$ There are certain proportions and dimensions in this question which I do not like. Not even the physical horror of my position in this cramped stack of eldrich worldbuilders and accursed spammers, miles below the world I know and faced by another world of eerie votes and flags, can match the lethal dread I feel at the abysmal antiquity of the post contents and its soul. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2020 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ Some would say that a key aspect of Lovecraftian horror is the horrifying indifference of reality, and of the great powers in it, to humans and human understanding. Humans are made antlike by the Lovecraftian mythos. A world in which the Elder Gods are dependent upon human beliefs, and interested to enslave humans, seems fundamentally contrary to the Lovecraftian perspective. $\endgroup$
    – Ceph
    May 5, 2020 at 17:37

11 Answers 11


Not every god has the same perspective of each other

Since each diety's story is intertwined with the stories of other deities, they each have different things to say about each other and themselves. Some of it is simply inflammatory lies or hyperboles. Some of it is self aggrandizing. Some of it is just an effort to fill in the gaps because they simply don't know everything there is to know about each-other.

Let's say you have two eldritch beings Cthulhu and Golgotha.

When Golgotha describes himself, he dictates "I am the greatest evil ever known, born of mankind's most horrible sins, I will rise up from below and engulf all of humanity in decay and darkness...". As far as Golgotha is concerned this is all true. But the one time Cthulhu met Golgotha he described the encounter, "Golgotha was born of a pile of shit. He is so pathetic I would have stamped him out of existence if I though my foot would ever be clean again."

One source says Golgotha was born of sin, the other of shit... in reality the gods are so old, none of them remember where they actually came from. These origin tails are just the gods just trying to use metaphor to describe one another which humans decide to take literally which creates the contradictory mythologies.


The stories are inconsistent but all true

Lovecraftian horrors are noneuclidean and defy understanding. Why should they submit to something as pedestrian as logical consistency or causality? Sure, humans can look at the stories and say “I can’t reconcile these”, but humans also can’t perceive but a fraction of the ways in which these beings exist.

Not only can Cthulhu make a burrito so hot, Cthulhu cannot eat it... Cthulhu can then eat it anyways. And not eat it, at the same time. And have it be a cold fish sandwich. And have eaten it before Cthulhu made it. None of those are limitations on Cthulhu.

And Cthulhu doesn’t need humans to reconcile the stories, because as long as they believe in any of them, that is belief in Cthulhu, and that is enough.

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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, if one could find humans who believe more than one mutually exclusive story at the same time, so much the better. Twice the faith boost from the same source. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    May 2, 2020 at 23:36
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    $\begingroup$ +2, but -1 for the pedestrian idea that Cthulhu needs human belief. $\endgroup$
    – Charles
    May 4, 2020 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ @charles That was a requirement from OP. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    May 4, 2020 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Charles Cthulhu doesn't need human belief, any more than Cthulhu needs a burrito. But, Cthulhu likes the opportunity for a snack every now and then. $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ Can Cthulhu make a list of all lists that list Cthulhu that doesn't make lists? $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 17:00

Consistency breeds testability

If there’s an inconsistent story out there, it makes it harder for science to isolate and analyze the gods, thereby deterring humanity from figuring out how to access the gods’ home dimension to kill them, take over their powers, or simply understand them and thereby diminish their majesty and worship. A tyrant fears truth because understanding decreases fear in the populace.


Have your cake and eat it, too.

While Lovecraft stories are known for their unhappy endings, some of the horrors can be fought some of the time. Accurate origin stories would contain clues how to fight. But without origin stories, the mythos lacks some storytelling appeal.

It would be best if only one set of consistent, false stories got out, but if you cannot do that, throw up lots and lots of chaff.

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    $\begingroup$ See also Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum for an example of this - it turns out that the vampire had a hand in writing at least one of the holy books which Oats attempts to use against him. Or for a more benign version, Miss Tick planting instructions for how to deal with a suspected witch, designed to allow the witch to escape unnoticed. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    May 5, 2020 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ Consistent, false stories would mean that the people could test and find they were false. No, you need lots of false stories that can only be eliminated one by. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Aug 9, 2020 at 4:06

Why do we have popular superheroes and supervillains with contradictory backstories? Merciful Deity and Wrathful Deity within the same religion?

To appeal to different audiences.

Some people might like the story of a Chosen One who is born great. Other people might prefer a story of an ordinary person (or astral being) who rises up to become an Ultimate Being through difficult trials.

Some might like a god that punishes the non-believers and unworthy. Others might prefer a god who gives second chances.

And would you find it easier to worship a god that rewards your service on earth with wealth and power, or one who promises to reward you after you die?

By giving inconsistent stories, different types of people can latch on to a different visions that appeal to them. This has the potential to draw in more believers than any single narrative.

  • $\begingroup$ ...and later cause schisms and bloody reformation wars due to inconsistent dogma. But that's a future people's problem :) $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    May 5, 2020 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ Schisms and bloody wars cause people to be more passionate about it. Which is good for their purposes. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Aug 8, 2020 at 3:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary And get's most of their work out of the way! $\endgroup$
    – No Name
    Aug 26, 2023 at 2:48

Competition on which god reaches our world first.

There's a huge advantage to be had for the first mover, even more so it one god can picture some of the others in such dark colors that s/he can hope only the our world fringe - thus, few - people will worship or even think of them.

Some others don't care that much about reputation; there's no such thing as bad publicity, so better to have plenty of stories that contradict each other than have very few but self-consistent. Controversy and polarisation work great to maintain POTU... errr, a politi... (oh, shut up)... a god in the news.


First, an obvious point... Since we're dealing with Outer Dimensions, it may be impossible to convey an accurate origin story within the restricted constructs of human language that is understandable by the limited capacities of the human brain. It's like trying to visualize a tesseract: we can only make approximations and poor intuitions about the actuality of it.

But if you want a purposive reason for this, well... Assume that the Elder Gods are like authoritarians, fascists, and nationalists everywhere: they lie about their origins for purposes of self-aggrandizement. Such people (and entities) want to be perceived as mighty, boundless, perfect, inevitably victorious, etc, and so they make up histories that paint them in that light. It doesn't matter if they conflict with the histories of the others, or even if what is said at one point conflicts with what is said at another point, because anyone with the temerity to question the history will immediately be denounced and/or killed by other followers.


Means of its destruction are tied to its origin.

The only way to destroy the One Ring was to toss it into the flames of Mount Doom. Imagine how difficult it would be to destroy it if there were multiple stories about how it came to be, and multiple supposed way to dispose of it, each harder than the last?

It's the same with powerful entities, the ways to destroy them (or severely limit their power and influence) are intimately and inseparably tied to how they came to be.


The important thing is belief that a god exists, not where it came from.

If you believe in Cuddles the Mindbreaker, Bringer of Chaos and Stolen Blankets, then it doesn't matter if you think he was born of the primordial soup of creation, or if she was birthed by 'P'str'ph's the Unpronounceable after a tryst with EïëïÖ of the Old Farm, of even if it was just always there, pre-dating the rest of creation.

Cuddles draws the same power from feeding on your belief in all these cases.

It neither gains, nor loses, anything from your mortal inconsistency. And once it arrives, you will be in no state to care or question which is true.


The gods exist, but are beyond mortal ken.

Every story is based on reality, but a reality that can never "fit" in the mortal mind; thus they appear contradictory. Only when viewed by a cosmic entity the truth in every story becomes evident.

Imagine the stories that ants might tell about humans. Or the stories that a virus might tell about a human.


This doesn't bode well for a mythology which wants to encourage belief or worship when they eventually cross over.

The opposite is true.

By having lots of different stories, believers may chose those that fits their preferences.

In fact, you can see it in the history of religions: whenever a religion appears, multiple interpretations begin spreading, each claiming a different meaning to the same texts and stories, and fitting to the group supporting it.

So if Cthulu did appear once when a cop was arresting a thief and he ate both of them, the thieves will adore Cthulu because he ate the cop; the fact that the thief was already eaten will be either downplayed ("Cthulu had no choice but to eat him to get to the cop") or directly erased from the story. Similarly, cops will cherish thief-eater Cthulu.

You could see it in the same way of some Christian preachers who, when trying to convert pagans, will start by linking Jesus to some of the local deities and giving it local attributes, or even "localized" religious depictions (a blonde Jesus in Scandinavia, a black one in Central Africa).

Of course, an important issue here is what "defines" a god, if it is its name or its attributes. If I worship a God by the right name but I am completely wrong about its actions, words and intentions... am I actually worshipping that God? E.g. if I worship Afrodita as the goddess of love but the entity that goes by Afrodita is actually the embodiment of war... am I actually increasing her power?


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